Interview with Isabelle "Sphinx" Schneider

Published in Vandalism News #64
Performed by Carl "Grip" Svensson during spring 2015

Sphinx is a member of Arsenic and Oxyron, being a graphician in both groups. She joined the scene in 2007 and has since then not only shown up at a lot of parties but also won or placed in the compos.

V) Hi, Sphinx! Please feel welcome to Vandalism News. Let's begin with the basics - tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you live, what do you work with, how do you fill your spare time?

S) Hi! My real name is Isabelle and I am living in Germany close to the Danish border. I was born and raised near Mannheim (80km from Frankfurt), somewhere in the south-middle part of Germany. After a short break of 5 years living in the Ruhrpott, am I now living in the nice town called Flensburg since roundabout 10 years, the northernmost, but beautiful part of Germany - close to the Danish Border.

I am working in a small company as Shop Admin, but also the Marketing- and Purchasing Department is a big part of my daily work. My whole spare time I spend with C64 and pixeling of course... noooo, not the whole time ;-). I really like cooking too, watching some good movies, sitting with friends to have some barbecue or for watching demos and drinking some beers together. Also I like to go out to music concerts or festivals and reading thrilling books.

V) You became interested in the C64 scene in 2007. Had you heard about the scene before that?

S) Yes, already since 1999 when I have met Yazoo, who wasn't indeed very scene-active at that part of lifetime, but nevertheless always interested in it and he has told me of course a lot about C64, Scene, Parties and Meetings, his lifetime-hobby, he showed me many of his and other demos and gfx-releases. In addition of this, many of his friends and acquaintances were and still are sceners too, so I was very often confronted with the subject C-64, demos and scene, also before 2007.

V) What lured you in and what made you stay?

S) The decisive point in time, to start trying to pixel something, was the 15 years Oxyron party in 2007. It was my first demo party and I was very interested and excited to watch, how a competition at a demo party is proceeding. The result was, that I found the idea of competing, this party spirit , and being part of a competition, as fascinating, that, right after the party ended, I resolved being creative for myself and to pixel my own pictures. My wish and target was and still is until today, perhaps sometimes being able to pixel pictures like all the other great graphicians in the scene. So, then in 2007, I have pixelled my first multicolour picture on C64 and was welcomed as new member of the group Arsenic.  

V) Had you been interested in computers in general before that - for example, what was your first computer? When did you get it? Was it perhaps a C64?

S) I was interested already very early in my life in gaming consoles, computers and playing computer-games, but unfortunately, the first one wasn't the C64. In 1984, my brother and me got a brand new Atari 2600 (the Darth Vader version) as an Christmas present, on which I have spent much time with playing games – perhaps a little bit untypical for a little girl at this age. ;-) Later then, in 1986/87, I have played many games on the first desktop computer, which my brother has bought, with at this early time in sensational 2-colours. ;-) Games like Leisure Suit Larry, Kings Quest, Police Quest, Summer Games, Winter Games and many more were counting among my most-liked games. 1996 I got then my first own computer, it was a 486, which I am owning until today and is still working with all its original components. Since then, Computers are a big part of my life, and as you can read above, also the C64 is an essential part of my life since 1999. I even own a good old Breadbox from 1983 :-)

V) The scene is a rather closed community in some ways. Sceners have their own jargon and adhere to certain codes of conduct that's been in the making since the eighties. Did you find it a hard subculture to get into?

S) Yes and no... A small part of the scene, or better said, some of the sceners, I have met independent from the scene itself, already before 2007, since 1999.

We had Barbecues and other kind of things like that. At those meetings they used to talk about scene-related stuff like coding, pixeling or gfx.

At the start it was pretty hard to get into the scene-jargon, as some topics sound quite a bit "special" to people which are not involved in all that. It took some time to get "into it" a little more, and when for example coders start talking about routines to each other, I still understand shit to be honest :-)

But that doesn't matter much, as I don’t really need to know about details depending on code or music.

Most sceners which I got to know during all those years seem very open and friendly to me, and it feels a bit like being part of a family. Even with people you didn’t know before - you always have a topic to talk about. So it wasn't that hard to get into the scene.

But too bad I cannot share the experience of being a scener back in the 80s or 90s, so at some point when others start talking about that period of time, I can´t be part of the discussions.

But as I am in the scene for about 8 years now, it doesn't hurt much - as I have experienced a lot of parties, demos and competitions myself now.

V) Personally, I often begin with a sketch on paper when starting a new picture, just to get some kind of outline into the pixel program. Do you have a certain method you stick to when doing graphics?

S) There is various possibilities to start with a picture. It all depends on the motif I think. When it comes to comic-styled motifs I start with a pen and paper, do a scan of it, and then start with the pixeling. Or sometimes I use my Wacom-tablet for that.

Another start of a picture can be a photo which I take myself (example: I took a photo of my hand for my picture "Fearless" to get the proportions right. So if you check out that picture that actually is my hand).

V) How do you choose your motifs? What inspires you?

S) That differs. Most of the time I get the best ideas at night when I am sleeping - or when I take a shower, I know, that sounds funny... :-) I then get my ideas for a motif in mind spontaneously, and I try to create that idea with a pixel program. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't.

Sometimes there is a given "theme" - especially when creating a picture for a demo. Then also the Google-picture search often helps to get some inspirations or ideas, especially when it gives me a hard time to find an idea myself.

So, there is not THAT ultimate way of getting a motif in mind.

V) Do you have any favourite C64 graphicians or C64 pictures?

S) Yes. There are really talented artists around like Mermaid, Pal, Oys, Elko, Mirage - and Yazoo ofcoz. There is many more active and great graphicians around, but just to name some of them. But most important are the pictures and not the artists :-)

My favourite GFX-mode is multicolour, and the motif has to "touch me" somehow.

V) What tools and programs do you use for pixeling?

S) To get started with a picture I often use Adobe Photoshop. For the pixel job I am using Project One most of the time, and sometimes Pixcen.

V) You've won first the graphics and then the demo compo at X. Is there anything left for you to conquer on the scene? What keeps you motivated?

S) I still can't really realise that I have won the famous gfx-competition at x-party 2012. Ofcoz I am pretty happy with that, that it seems a lot of people have liked my picture and gave me their votes for it.

On the other hand there have been some very negative moments right after the win, because just a handful of people have voted in total (the voting was very late at night). So, I am realistic, and pretty sure that I would not have won that competition, if the voting took place a little earlier.

But still I am happy with the won trophy, and the motivation remains to win one of the major competition at some day, against all those top-graphicians around.

After a competition is always before a competition. But the next goal is to beat Yazoo in a competition and win the family-internal competition at once - which will be hard enough ;-)

V) You strike me as somewhat patriotic about beer. If I'm not mistaken, large quantities of German beer were brought to both BFP 2013 and CHCC 2014. Why is German beer the best? During what circumstances would you drink other (foreign) beers?

S) Hehe, up to you to tell me what's better about the German beer?! :-) I think others may be more competent to answer that question.

I like German beer, as we have quite a lot of different brands here, and so you can just pick whatever comes the closest to the personal liking.

But I also like to try beer from other countries, so I can compare - and probably find something new and special.

I more see this as some kind of "beer-swap" when I bring German beer to a meeting or party - and get some other beer in exchange.

I love to drink and try out foreign beers - especially when I am attending a party somewhere outside Germany. In Denmark there is quite a few brews which I really do like. Too bad, we on the German side of the Danish border are not allowed to buy Danish beer here (for strange reasons - as the German recycling deposit ("pfand") system is not compatible with the Danish one). So you need a Danish friend to come over to Germany and buy the beer for you (which officially would not even be allowed, as the Danish guys would have to sign a piece of paper, that they gonna export the beer). Strange, isn't it? Hehe. It is available in all those shops around here in Flensburg, but you are not allowed to buy it when you are German. I feel discriminated :-)

V) Ah, so it's a kind of currency for experiencing other beers. That's a great idea! What kinds of beer do you enjoy the most and what are your favourite brands?

S) It depends a bit on the season. In Summer I prefer wheat beer over pilsner, especially when it is cold and refreshing.

In general I like beer the most, which isn't too tart - but still not just tasting like water :-) I have no real favourite Brand, as I often like the small local and less well-known brands the most. A good example probably is "Rothaus Pilsner" (which in fact is well-known in some German areas). But also the Rothaus Wheat-Beer is just great.

When it comes to wheat-beer I like Kapuziner Weizen, Weihenstephaner or Erdinger Ur-Weisse the most.

As I said before - it pretty much depends on the season.

V) You come from a solid old-school background, with Atari 2600 and monochrome PC screens. What are your thoughts on emulation vs. the real deal? Do you for example double-check your pictures on a CRT screen before deciding they're finished?

S) I am pixeling my pictures completely on the desktop computer, and when I am making progress I use to check it out with an emulator. And when I am finished with the pixels I am ofcoz going to check it out on the real breadbox and CRT monitor.

The most realistic and best picture results are only given by real hardware. So I think that when it comes to competitions, only real hardware should be used.

Also, when watching demos at home as a lame sofa-scener, I am watching them with the real deal, but indeed connected to a big LED-TV, because of not having a PAL-TV in the living room for any longer (there is limited space, you know).

To my shame I have to admit, that I am watching the most party releases uploaded to CSDb with an emulator for the first time, later on I am watching them on real hardware again.
But – all in one can I say, that I am rather an emu-lamer... ;-)

V) What do you think about the future of the scene? Do you for example see yourself still pixelling ten, twenty years from now?

S) The scene is permanently changing, people are coming in, and other ones are leaving the scene, sometimes for a longer time, some only for a shorter break to collect new inspiration. For me, I still have fun in pixeling and being part of the scene, as long as lots of people are still creative and are visiting meetings and parties and are keeping the scene alive. But preparing for parties, pixeling and doing plans for demos takes a lot of time and sometimes it can be very hard and stressful, doing all this after a hard day at work. So, to be honest, it is hard to forecast for how many years I will have the time and fun to do all this, we all are not becoming younger... ;-)

But, I don't think much about what is going to happen in 10 or 20 years, but am enjoying the time now and today and will pixel on and release pictures, as long as it is fun and other people like to see my artwork.

V) What are your favourite C64 demos - let's say, top five?

S) That is very hard to say, as there are so many fantastic demos – older and newer ones - which I really, really like a lot, so it is very difficult for me to list only 5 of them. So, to list some of them – my really personal favourites at the moment are: #1 Comalight, #2 Disco Apocalypso, #3 Wonderland XII, #4 We are New, #5 Frantic 3: Nightmare

V) Any last words?

S) I am very happy and glad, that it was me, being chosen to answer your questions and I hope, that my answers have been interesting for some readers of this interview. :-)

Besides, I wish that scene-life will be alive for another long, long time and hope, that there will be many more great releases, parties and meetings in the future and the C64-scene itself stays alive as it is at the moment. And, of course, that there will be many, many more issues of Vandalism News in the future, as I love to spend some time with reading - sitting in front of my computer with a good cup of coffee or a cool and delicious beer. :-)

On this note: cheers to all Vandalism-readers! :-)

V) Thank you so much for your time - best of luck and keep those pictures coming!